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Maria Helena Vieira da Silva was born on June 13, 1908, in Lisbon, Portugal, and died on March 6, 1992, in Paris, France. She was a prominent artist who navigated a challenging life, marked by the turmoil of World War II and her continuous pursuit of artistic excellence.
Vieira da Silva came from a wealthy Portuguese family, with her grandfather owning a prominent newspaper. Her father passed away when she was only three years old, leaving her surrounded by women in her formative years. She developed a fascination with books, libraries, and music, laying the groundwork for her artistic career.
In 1928, at 18 years old, she moved to Paris to study art. She enrolled at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, studying sculpture under Bourdelle. In 1929, she attended various institutions, including the Atelier 17, Scandinavian Academy, and the Academie Colarossi, studying under renowned artists like Fernand Léger and Charles Despiau. Eventually, she abandoned sculpture for painting, learning from Dufresne, Waroquier, and Friesz.
On February 22, 1930, Vieira da Silva married Arpad Szenes, a Hungarian Jew who initially was her teacher. Szenes recognized her talent, providing unconditional support and making his artistic career subservient to hers. Their relationship proved to be vital during the turbulent years of World War II.
At the onset of the war, Vieira da Silva and her husband were living and working in Paris. Fearing the Nazis' advance, they first moved to Lisbon before eventually fleeing to Brazil. They faced significant challenges due to their stateless status. They would later acquire French citizenship.
Throughout the 1930s, Vieira da Silva gained recognition as an artist, participating in various group exhibitions in France and Portugal. Her first solo exhibition took place in 1935 at Galerie UP in Lisbon. Over time, she developed a unique artistic style, focusing on spatial concerns and abstraction.
During her time in Brazil (1940-1947), Vieira da Silva's work took on darker themes, reflecting her struggles with depression and the ongoing war. Right in the middle of her years in Brazil, her painting "Ballet" (1939) was featured in the Exhibition by 31 Women. Upon returning to Paris in 1947, she fully committed to abstraction, with her most mature works emerging in the 1950s.
Maria Helena Vieira da Silva's artwork stands as a testament to her resilience and artistic vision. Her contributions to the world of abstract art have left an indelible mark on the history of 20th-century art. Today, her life and work are preserved through the Fondacao Arpad Szenes-Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, ensuring her lasting impact on future generations.